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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Lawyer calls on KCF head to pay for criticism of Angkor Wat lights

Lawyer calls on KCF head to pay for criticism of Angkor Wat lights

KCF President Moeung Sonn, who has fled to France, maintains that the government is to blame for public outcry over installation work.

Government lawyer Pal Chan Dara answered questions in Phnom Penh Municipal Court Tuesday regarding his June 2 complaint accusing the president of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation (KCF) of inciting the public and spreading false information.

Moeung Sonn, the KCF president, held a press conference in Siem Reap last month during which he claimed that the installation of new light fixtures had damaged Angkor Wat.

Pal Chan Dara said Tuesday that he asked the court to make Moeung Sonn pay 10 million riels (US$2,400) for severely damaging the government's reputation.

The lawyer criticised Moeung Sonn's "rubbish press conference in Siem Reap", which he said "was absolutely wrong ... and made tourists fearful and unwilling to visit the temple".

Moeung Sonn, who fled to France to avoid arrest, defended his actions in an interview with the Post, saying much of the blame for the outcry over Angkor Wat's new lights lies with the government.

"Government officials [should have] informed the public in advance that the installation of the lights designed to attract more visitors at night ... will not cause damage," he said from France, adding that he had asked Prime Minister Hun Sen, King Sihamoni and King Father Norodom

Sihanouk to intervene on his behalf.

The Cambodia Watchdog Council (CWC) condemned the government's use of the judiciary to silence critics in a June 9 press release, and the CWC representative singled out Moeung Sonn's case as typical of the government's attacks on free speech.

"The government shouldn't have sued Moeung Sonn for his concern over the lights at Angkor Wat - which surely damaged the temple, but the government rejected the truth and sued him," Rong Chunn, the CWC representative said. "Government officials are now using  the court system to discourage all critics."

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